Communication and social learning

In many social insect species, workers communicate the location of profitable food sources or nest-sites to their nest-mates. Honeybee foragers, for example, use the famous waggle dance to advertise profitable resources (photo). Foragers of many ant and some bee species lay pheromone trails. We try to understand the costs and benefits of different communication methods.

Empirical and theoretical research suggests that under some circumstances searching independently (scouting) or relying on past experiences (personal information) might be a more successful strategy. We study the ecological circumstances that favour different information-use strategies and try to understand how individual decisions lead to collective behavioural patterns. Furthermore, we try to find out which genes affect information-use strategies.

Representative papers

Grüter C and Leadbeater E (2014) Insights from insects about adaptive social information use. Trends Ecol. Evol. 29:177-184. pdf

Grüter C, Czaczkes TJ and Ratnieks FLW (2011) Decision-making in ant foragers (Lasius niger) facing conflicting private and social information. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 65:141-148. pdf

Grüter C, Balbuena MS and Farina WM (2008) Informational conflicts created by the waggle dance. Proc. R. Soc. B 275:1321-1327. pdf

Colony organisation and division of labour 

Division of labour is important for the ecological success of social insects. In most species, workers perform different tasks at different ages (temporal caste systems). For example, foraging is often performed by older workers. In some species, however, workers are morphologically specialised for particular tasks (physical caste systems). While division of labour has been extensively studied in honey bees and ants, little is known about colony organisation and division of labour in the largest group of highly eusocial bees, the stingless bees (Meliponini). Stingless bees show diverse life-histories, including both temporal and physical caste systems (photo shows a soldier and a minor worker of the species Tetragonisca angustula). We try to understand the costs and benefits associated with different types division of labour.

Representative papers

Segers FHID, von Zuben L and Grüter C (2016) Local differences in parasitism and competition shape defensive investment in a polymorphic eusocial bee. Ecology 97: 417-426. pdf

Hammel B, Vollet-Neto A, Menezes C, Nascimento FS, Engels W and Grüter C (2016) Soldiers in a stingless bee: work rate and task repertoire suggest they are an elite force. Am. Nat., 187, 120-129. pdf

Grüter C, Menezes C, Imperatriz-Fonseca V and Ratnieks FLW (2012) A morphologically specialised soldier caste improves colony defense in a Neotropical eusocial bee. PNAS, 109, 1182-1186.  pdf